Ai Weiwei (August 28, 1957, Beijing, China)
Ai Weiwei, born 28 August 1957 in Beijing, is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. His father's (Ai Qing) original surname was written Jiang.
Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.
As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of "economic crimes".
After studying at the Beijing Film Academy Ai Weiwei joins Stars group, an avant-garde art collective. In September Stars stage an exhibition on the railings outside the China Art Gallery.
When the works are forcibly removed, they march in protest and as a result are granted permission to exhibit. The exhibition is attended by 80,000 people.
Facing harsh official criticism and political pressure, the Stars group disbands and several of the artists leave China. In New York Ai Weiwei documents his life in exile in thousands of photographs. Many depict his circle of friends who are now respected figures in China, including the composer Tan Dun, the conductor Hu Yongyan, and the filmmaker Chen Kaige. He also meets and becomes friends with Allen Ginsberg.
He begins making work that openly criticises the Chinese government. In one particular performance piece he causes controversy when he photographs himself smashing a Han Dynasty Urn.
The blog, which documents his life, his art and his political views attracts seven million readers. The site is shut down in 2008 after Ai Weiwei uses it as a platform to criticise corrupt government officials in the building of badly constructed schools in Sichuan. These schools collapsed during the 2008 earthquake killing hundreds of children.
Writing in The Guardian, Ai Weiwei says he regrets being part of the commissioning process to conceive the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest.
In October he unveils his commission for the Unilever Series at Tate Modern. The work consists of millions of porcelain seeds made in the workshops of Jingdezhen, a town once famous for its porcelain and now struggling to find its place in the modern world. Ai Weiwei shows what can be done to help communities like Jingdezhen through art.
Ai Weiwei spends 81 days in detention and his passport is confiscated for alleged ‘economic crimes’. The US, European Union and global arts community protest against his arrest. The following year he uploads Grass Mud Horse Style, a parody of K-pop Psy’s video of his global hit, Gangnam Style. It depicts the defiant artist performing the horse-riding dance and waving handcuffs above his head.
After four years his passport is returned to him by the Chinese authorities and he is able to travel again in time for his retrospective at the Royal Academy. This doesn’t stop the British government embarrassing itself by only issuing him with a 20-day visa rather than the six-month one as requested. The British authorities claim this is because the artist did not declare a criminal conviction. Despite his detainment, Ai Weiwei has never been charged or convicted of any crime in China. (artfund.org)